Sunday, November 10, 2013

Anne R. Allen: Does Sex Sell? Censored Gay Sex Scene From Here to Eternity

Anne R. Allen Post: Does Sex Sell?

Update: Anne R. Allen was gracious enough to leave a comment here and I think it's important for anyone reading this post to check it out in the comment section.

According to a weak blog post over at Passive Guy whether or not sex sells is up for debate over at Anne R. Allen's blog. I've been a fan of Allen's for a long time and I love her work and I love her blog, too. And I actually agree with a good deal of what she posted, but I also think it was highly clever of her to actually write post about sex selling because posts about sex garner more hits than posts about Christmas cookies and kittens, which in a way suggests in itself that sex sells. Passive Guy is even cleverer: he just linked to a post about sex and snagged hits. I know this as a blogger and I understand search engines.  In other words, Passive Guy and Anne R. Allen did NOT post about Christmas cookies and kittens to get blog readers to actually read their posts. They posted about sex and a sex related topic. They got hits. This makes me smile.

Allen begins her post talking about how her publisher asked her to remove a sex scene and she was worried about doing this. Not because the publisher might have been censoring her. But because she was worried the book wouldn't sell as well. Then she mentions how so many have copied Fifty Shades of Grey and how publishing is on overload with fakes trying to duplicate the E.L James success. She's right about that. I've seen it myself and I've been writing erotic romance for almost twenty-one years and I've never seen so many jump onto the proverbial bandwagon of the Fifty Shades success. However, there hasn't been one single mega hit since FS, and I actually did post about this a while back when FS first hit the market. In my post I compared the success of FS to the old novel, Peyton Place.

After reading so many opinions about FSoG, I can't help thinking about books from the past that have jumped unexpectedly into the mainstream, with all the hype and promise that FSoG has had so far. If you go way back, way before my time, "Peyton Place," was one of those books. For its time period, PP had all the elements that FSoG has today. And yet as far as I know there was only one book like PP ever published with that kind of phenomenal success. I'm sure there were other books published like PP after it became so popular, but none ever reached the pinnacle of PP. Even the author of PP, Grace Metalious, never reached that level of success again.

Allen moves on in her post to discuss a great deal of what's been happening in the past months with web sites where e-books are sold and how they've been censoring books. She doesn't use the word censoring, but it is what it is and I see no reason to not use it. Toni Morrison has been censored, and so have other high profile authors. But Allen's point seems to be that all books are judged by robots and even though erotic romance authors like me don't break the rules with regard to taboo content, some authors do and the rest of us get lumped in with them and now we all have to watch out for words that might affect us without cause. And yet TV shows like American Horror Story: Coven can get away with taboos like bestiality, rape, incest, pedophilia, and more. They win awards for it. I posted about that here. And I've written many posts on censoring books.

The most important thing to take into consideration here is that Anne R. Allen is talking about sex in mainstream novels, not sex in genre least I think so.

With so much explicit "mommy porn" available to peruse discretely on our e-readers, maybe the time has come when we no longer need to sprinkle our mainstream books with those titillating scenes that became de rigueur in the heyday of "steamy" novels by authors like Jacqueline Susann and Harold Robbins. (As Spock called them in Star Trek IV..."the giants.")

At the moment, I think writers need to treat sex scenes like adverbs. We should always ask ourselves, "is this necessary to the story?"

However, if you are an established author you have to know who you are and who your audience is. I actually did something I never thought I would do by self-censoring my book, Chase of a Dream. When I released the book on my own terms in two different versions, one with sex and one without, I had no idea what to expect. Though I only removed 7,000 words from the original book, the one without sex just sat there and did nothing while the book with the sex scenes did better than I ever thought it would. And I'm still getting e-mails from readers who made the mistake of buying the self-censored version instead of the original version with sex, and I'm still giving them returns from my own files. So my readership told me in plain and simple terms they want sex in books. But my readership is geared toward men and women who want to read gay erotic romance, with sex scenes. And if I did any less than that I would be letting them down and I have no intention of doing this to my readers. In fact, Allen's post only makes me want to write more sex.

So while I do agree with Allen's post in a general sense, I also think this might be one of those times you really have to know who you are and where you're going with your writing. There's nothing wrong with sex in books, there's nothing wrong with the people who like to read books with sex in them, or the authors who like to write sexy books. I really don't care about whether or not sex sells. I honestly don't, and never really did. The only reason I'm posting about this right now is because erotic romance authors have been taking slams from holier than thous since the beginning of time as we know it and I think it's high time someone started saying it's okay to have sex in books, too.

It's also time for erotic romance writers to stop being treated like second class citizens in publishing as well. If it hadn't been for E. L. James and Fifty shades of Grey, a lot of people in publishing wouldn't have had bonus checks this year.

Censored Gay Sex Scene From Here to Eternity

Speaking of sex and censorship, I think this next article is interesting compared to what I wrote above. Evidently, there were scenes taken out of From Here to Eternity right from the start by none other than the publisher. And, gay sex, too. Someone get my smelling salts.

The original manuscript of From Here to Eternity went into "great detail" about the kinds of sexual favours soldiers like Private Angelo Maggio, played in the film by Frank Sinatra, would provide to rich gay men for money, Kaylie Jones revealed in an article written for US news website the Daily Beast.

"'I don't like to be blowed [by a man]'," the novel's hero Private Robert E Lee Prewitt tells Maggio in a section cut from the novel. "Angelo shrugged," writes James Jones. "'Oh, all right. I admit it's nothing like a woman. But it's something. Besides, old Hal treats me swell. He's always good for a touch when I'm broke. Five bucks. Ten bucks. Comes in handy the middle of the month ... Only reason I let Hal blow me is because I got a good thing there. If I turned him down I'd blow it sky high. And I want to hang onto that income, buddy.'"

James Jones, author of the book, originally fought being censored. His daughter now thinks the original book was better. But at the time there was a Catholic group pressuring publishers to censor books.

You can read more here. I highly recommend it, especially in these trying days of everyone telling us how they feel about sex in books, and what's too much, what's too little, and what sells.

Photo above with link is in the Public Domain.


Anne R. Allen said...

Thanks for the shout-out for my post, Ryan! I wanted to clarify that my post isn't about censorship, although the PG excerpts made it seem that way.

Mostly I wanted to give writers a heads-up about the new rules being put in place by our algorithm overlords. Writers can call themselves "indie" all they want, but unless 100% of your sales are from your own website, you're at the mercy of retailers. They are private companies and can choose what they want to sell.

Sex sells, but in the right place. Toys R Us doesn't sell dildos.This isn't censorship, it's good marketing.

Of course, Amazon, Kobo, et al. make lots of nice money from erotica, but they also have customers who are upset by it. The retailers' problem is categorizing, rather than censoring. They need to get the right titles in front of the right eyeballs.

With the millions of ebooks coming out every year, this can't be done by humans. It has to be done by robots, aka algos. But algos do not get subtleties. So certain words will trigger them to send your book to a certain category.

If you don't want to be in that category, it's a problem. But if you do, everything is copacetic.

Erotica writers don't have much to fear from this new wrinkle, except maybe from Kobo, who market to less progressive countries and so have stricter guidelines, but nothing stops you from selling any kind of legal erotica through Amazon, Nook or Smashwords. Mark Coker was very enlightening on the subject.

ryan field said...

Thanks for commenting. I'm glad you did because I didn't want the tone of the post to come off looking like I disagreed with anything you said. I've been through it, too. Publishers have told me take something out and make it less sexy, or sometimes they've told me to add more sex. And I usually listen to the publisher and things usually work out well.

I actually agree with you and I've been through my own hells with search engines because of one or two words in titles or descriptions that were deemed inappropriate even though none of the content violated any standard guidelines or went into anything "taboo" like incest or others themes.

I'll update the post and point people to the comment thread now so they can read what you added.

Again, thanks!!